Business Today

Alumni networks pay back

The alumni networks of some leading educational institutions are raising substantial funds for their alma maters.
E. Kumar Sharma | Print Edition: Mar 2, 2014
Alumni networks pay funds for their alma maters
Professors Chakravarthy Balaji (second from left) and R. Nagarajan (second from right) with other alumni at the reunion of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras, in January this year

At 32, Rakesh Godhwani had everything going for him. Handling business development at Qualcomm, the Fortune 500 mobile technology company, he was well on his way to taking on bigger responsibilities and more senior positions.

On May 30, 2008, however, Godhwani gave it all up. He took a two-month break and then headed back to his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIMB) from where he completed his three-year part-time MBA in 2004. He joined the faculty as an adjunct professor in August 2008. But, equally, if not more importantly, he led the efforts to strengthen the alumni network as head of the IIMB Alumni Association.

"I wanted to follow my heart and do what made me happy," he says. "IIMB had given me a lot in the form of instilling self belief and confidence, stoked my hunger to learn and provided me some amazing friends. I wanted to give back to my alma mater in my own way."

The IIMB alumni association has five full-time members and manages 14 chapters worldwide which help to forge bonds between its 11,000 ex-students from various programmes. "Ours is perhaps the country's only professionally managed alumni association," says Godhwani with a palpable sense of pride, "We still have miles to go but we are now becoming very organised in serving our alma mater, and helping one another."

When Godhwani took charge, the association had hardly any structure in place for serious fundraising. The process to create one began in 2011. The following year, the IIMB Alumni PGP (post graduate programme) 1986 batch, at their 25th year reunion, pledged Rs 1 crore to support research and internationalisation efforts at the institute. The association intends setting a Rs 10 crore fund-raising target for 2014.

Another alumni association extremely active is that of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. "IIT Madras has seen a four-fold increase in fund-raising in the last three years. Till 2009, we had been receiving, on average, Rs 3 crore from our alumni as contributions towards infrastructure, research, travel grants, scholarships, awards and prizes, general endowments, etc, That has now changed, with the contribution going up to Rs 10 crore in 2010, and in the last couple of years touching an average of Rs 12 crore," says R. Nagarajan, Dean, International and Alumni Relations.

He says about 80 per cent of contributions come from the alumni directly. The balance comes from industry and various foundations, but these are also mostly fuelled by the alumni working there. In 2013, IIT Madras saw a record number of new donors as well as a 20 per cent increase in registered alumni members, adds Nagarajan.

Maturing Alumni

This new level of enthusiasm and optimism in resource mobilisation for leading institutes at a time when the prevailing corporate mantra has been resource cutbacks ' given the condition of the economy ' may seem paradoxical. But it is a sign of a maturing alumni keen to play a role in shaping the future of their alma maters.

In September last year, Harvard University launched Harvard Campaign to raise $6.5 billion, of which $2.8 billion has already been obtained

Some former students, among them top corporate leaders, set the tone even earlier. Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys, for instance, did his MSc (Physics) in 1977 and his MTech (Computer Science) in 1979 from IIT Madras. He has already donated more than Rs 20 crore towards various projects at the institute such as the P.G. Senapathy Center for Computing Resources, the Research Park and the M.S. Ananth Endowment Fund, among others. Meanwhile, the alumni of the 1985 and 1987 batches of IIT Madras contributed Rs 2.65 crore and Rs 2.10 crore respectively towards General Alumni Endowment Fund.

Compared to similar associations in the US, however, Indian ones still have some way to go. On September 21 last year, for instance, Harvard University launched a fund-raising effort called Harvard Campaign. It hopes to raise $6.5 billion "to support a wide range of academic initiatives, including developing new approaches to teaching and learning, and advancing discovery across schools and disciplines", as the press release announcing the campaign put it. The university revealed that in its pre-launch phase itself, it had managed to raise $2.8 billion "from more than 90,000 alumni and friends".

A Long Way to go
So Indian institutions are still way behind. And as Lakshmi Narayanan, Vice Chairman, Cognizant Technology Solutions, noted while speaking at BITS Pilani's global alumni meeting in Hyderabad in the first week of January, alumni support the world over has always been one of the dominant sources for building endowments for educational institutions and unless that happens "research is unlikely to gather pace in this country".

BITS, however, is another institute where the alumni are doing their bit. They launched the Bridges to the Future fund-raising campaign in December 2011 to raise $1 million to support various initiatives under different categories ' faculty enrichment, students enrichment, BITSConnect 2.0 and community development. Just before the global meet, the alumni were informed that the campaign had exceeded expectations with funds raised crossing $1 million.

BITS Pilani alumni meet
(From left) Ajay Chaturvedi of HarVa, Prem Jain of Insieme Networks, Raman Venkatesh of Eureka Forbes, Vijay Chandru of Strand Life Sciences and Rajesh Hukku, formerly of i-flex Solutions, at the BITS Pilani alumni meet in Hyderabad Photo: A . Prabhakar Rao
In recent years, the alumni of the 13-year-old Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad, a relatively young institution, have also been engaging closely with their alma mater. The idea of an Alumni Endowment Fund was initiated by the Class of 2004 in late 2010, and set up in early 2011. It has gained momentum in the past 18 months, with the pledges totalling about Rs 1.5 crore.

Is there anything more alumni networks can do, apart from fundraising, advising, mentoring and helping the alma mater in recruitment efforts? Says Gopalakrishnan of Infosys: "The alumni networks must look at ways to improve the standards of education in India. We need world-class educational institutions and the alumni have an important role in ensuring that?. Since they know their alma maters, they are best placed to decide how best to support this effort."

The alma mater, on its part, has a role too in encouraging alumni efforts. S. Viswanatha Prasad, Founder and Managing Director at Caspian Advisors, and a former BITS Pilani student, says: "For resource mobilisation to really take off, there has to be a compelling case as to what the money raised would be used for, and how the funds will be governed and managed." He also feels efforts in India need to be seen in a global context as many institutions here are still young. It is easier for the alumni of relatively older institutions such as the IITs and BITS to talk about sharing wealth, given their age and experience.

Finally, as Godhwani puts it: "The power of alumni is incredible and if harnessed properly it can do wonders for the institute."

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